O’Neill ready to use private sector to cut waiting lists

Michelle O'Neill appeared before the Stormont health committee
Michelle O'Neill appeared before the Stormont health committee

Stormont’s health minister has vowed to set aside her ideological opposition to private health care to help cut Northern Ireland’s waiting lists.

Michelle O’Neill said she was prepared to utilise the independent sector as a short-term measure to reduce the time it takes to treat people.

The Sinn Fein minister also downplayed the significance of the lack of extra funding to address waiting lists in the Executive’s quarterly reallocation of departmental funds.

She said the October monitoring round was less important than the £200 million she had already secured from the Executive coffers this year in addition to her baseline budget.

Mrs O’Neill was giving evidence to her Stormont scrutiny committee on her newly published 10-year plan to restructure health and social care in the region.

The plan included a pledge to formulate, by January next year, a detailed strategy to tackle waiting lists.

DUP committee member Gary Middleton asked the minister how could she reassure those on waiting lists in the here and now.

Mrs O’Neill acknowledged there was a need for short-term fixes in addition to the longer term restructuring plans.

The minister said waiting lists were a “symptom of an outdated system”.

“We need to push the system to make sure it can do everything it possibly can and it’s up to full capacity and, in the short term, we may need to go out to use the independent sector also,” she said.

“That’s not somewhere I want to be but it is somewhere I will go to ensure that patients get seen in as quickly a manner as possible.”

She added: “It’s totally unacceptable for me as a minister to say some people are waiting the lengths of time they are .

“So I will do absolutely everything I can to bring down waiting lists - that’s the comfort and message I would send out very clearly to the public.

“Everything that is in my power and capability to do to bring down waiting lists, I will be doing it.”